Edupunk, Engagement and the Rise of Peer Training

Last week, the Thesis Whisperer visited Heriot-Watt. No, it wasn’t an expert in animal training nor was it a visiting speaker who hadn’t learned to project their voice but instead Dr Inger Mewburn, known online for her Thesis Whisperer blog. Although her talk was aimed at helping young academics use social media to help them up the career ladder, one of the most memorable moments was her presentation of the idea of “Edupunk.”

Edupunk is new, dating from just 2008. Basically, it promotes a “do-it-yourself” rule-free approach to teaching and learning. What Dr Mewburn added was that this could easily apply to academic careers too. At a time when blogs and twitter feeds say as much about an academic as their publication list and CV, why play by the existing rules? Why not use new technologies to get the word out about what you do rather than spending all your time filling in form after form after form?

It’s not far off an approach that was tried here at Heriot-Watt to get Deaf and signing people more engaged with research. Since these people are online and engaging with blogs anyway, why not aim a blog at them and let them engage with research online? You will need to either come to the upcoming BAAL conference or wait until the paper hits the journals to find out how that went.

Still, whether that was successful of not, the point remains that nowadays, online, interactive, innovative learning is hitting the mainstream. In the world of commercial translation and interpreting, providers like eCPD and experts like Marta Stelmaszak are making waves with courses like Business School for Translators and showing that translators and interpreters can and should learn from their fellow professionals. National associations have long shown that this path is worth treading. ITI is only one example of a professional association that has long made a  point of providing opportunities for its members to learn from each other.

It’s a cultural shift that is spreading far and wide. But this wouldn’t be a LifeinLINCS post if we just left it there. Just as crowdsourced and professional translation might not be implacable enemies, so it is with Edupunk and traditional training. There are, after all, good reasons for boring-sounding concepts like Learning Outcomes and Syllabus Design. While you could almost certainly string together micro-course after micro-course and spend the same number of hours on informal translation and interpreting training as you could on a degree course, it wouldn’t add up to the same thing.

Of course, some would say that this only favours online and peer learning. A masters degree does not a translator make. That may well be true but it is also true to say that the good degrees can be recognised by the fact that they mix both practical and theoretical training, alongside exposure to events that provide a starting point for the transition from graduate to freelancer.

There might therefore be space for partnership between the new and the old or even for them to learn from each other. The new online course providers could perhaps do with looking at how universities pull together courses into a single package and how they check that the courses they offer are working. They might also want to take a peek at the transferable skills that graduates are supposed to learn to see what they could add to their approach. Learning how to learn effectively is, after all, as necessary a skill for aspiring freelancers as learning to market their services.

For pre-Edupunk academics, the lessons are more striking. For one, if the edupunk approach is has merit then some of the structures normally put around learning might be completely unnecessary. At the very least, it might mean mixing up the methods used for teaching and making more materials available online to absolutely anyone. Edupunk, engagement and peer learning tell us that people want to be far more involved in their own training. Perhaps it’s time to give them that opportunity.

Author: Jonathan Downie

[Editor’s note: The first public version of this post erroneously suggested that national associations had “jumped on the bandwagon” in providing online, peer-learning courses. It has been correctly pointed out that this is not the case and in some cases the courses provided by national associations pre-date some of the examples given by several years. Jonathan apologises for any offence caused by this inaccuracy.]